Candidates spar over education, energy at sole lieutenant governor debate

Published 3:01 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

The next Kentucky governor will have a sidekick: their lieutenant governor.

Current Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman, Gov. Andy Beshear’s pick, faced off against Sen. Robby Mills, Daniel Cameron’s choice, in a Monday night debate.

The lieutenant governor takes over for the governor if needed. They typically focus on a key issue during their time in office, while helping the governor.

In the role, Coleman has focused on education, as a former public educator herself.

She has worked to secure more than $40 million in federal funding to increase student mental health resources in schools across the commonwealth and waive GED fees for adults.

Before serving as lieutenant governor, Coleman was secretary of the Education and Workforce Development department and founded a nonprofit, Lead Kentucky, to prepare college women for leadership roles on campus and beyond.

Mills has represented Western Kentucky in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate since 2017.

Currently, he is a state senator representing Henderson. During his tenure, he has sponsored several bills, including one that prohibits the retirement of coal-fired power plants.

He also sponsored a bill divesting state funds from investment firms that use climate conscious policies, included in so-called ESG investments.

Mills is a small business owner, too.

Energy and the environment

Debate moderator Renee Shaw asked several questions about the Cameron-Mills and Beshear-Coleman plans regarding energy and the environment.

Mills said that the Biden administration has been threatening coal jobs, and Beshear has done nothing to stop it. He said that a base of coal energy will be critical to the Commonwealth’s future economic success.

“I think we have 10 or 15 years coming up where electrical power is going to be very sparse in Kentucky, if we allow the federal government to bully its way through and allow coal-fired plants to be retired and allow these utilities to shut down,” he said.

LG&E has proposed closing down coal-fired power plants, replacing them with plants run on natural gas and renewable energy. They say that ratepayers will pay more for outdated coal-fired energy under Mill’s sponsored bill banning their retirement.

Mills disagreed, saying that coal is still the most “economical” choice.

Coleman said that she supports an “all of the above” energy approach. The Beshear-Coleman ticketed is endorsed by United Mine Workers and coal operators.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman touts Gov. Andy Beshear’s 5-part “Education First” plan at Western Kentucky University’s Cherry Hall in Bowling Green on Oct. 10.

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron, is welcomed by local supporters at the Warren County GOP Headquarters in Bowling Green on Oct. 20.

“We have to make sure that every kind of energy available to us is online on the grid and available and ready to go,” she said.

She added that she believes in climate change.

Mills acknowledged that industries can have some impact on raising the global temperature, but said that “climate change is not as big as what it appears to be.”


Democrats have attacked Mills for being a supporter of the so-called sewer bill, a 2018 bill that inserted unpopular pension reform language into an unrelated sewage bill.

The bill, which would have reduced teacher pensions, passed the legislature and was signed by then-Governor Matt Bevin, but was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The court ruled that the bait-and-switch method of passing the bill did not give the public enough time to read and consider it before it passed into law.

Mills was not the lead sponsor on the bill, but he supported it, and advocated for a special session after the court’s decision to try and pass pension reform.

During the debate, Mills said that the Public Pension Oversight Board, of which he is a member, will consider funding a cost of living adjustment for pensions for the first time since 2011 this year.

“Daniel Cameron and I are committed to funding the pensions and continuing to stay disciplined, like the legislature has done, to get our pensions back in order,” he said.

Coleman didn’t seem convinced. She said that pensions are teachers’ only safety net, since they don’t pay into Social Security, and are their reward for a lifetime of service.


Mills did not commit to a specific school choice plan, but said that he generally supports school choice measures, including vouchers and open borders.

“I think it’s important,” he said. “Kids get trapped in schools that they can’t learn in and they need to have the opportunity to move around and find the education that’s best for them.”

School choice measures would require a constitutional amendment after the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down educational opportunity accounts, but Mills said there are talks about adding one to the ballot in 2024.

Coleman is staunchly against school choice measures. She said they take money from public schools to give to unaccountable private schools.

She added that the focus should be on making schools as good as they can be everywhere, by putting students first and supporting teachers.

“Our voters deserve to know that when they send their kids to school, it shouldn’t matter their ZIP code,” she said.

“It shouldn’t have to be that they have to move around. It should be that every school is the best it can be; otherwise your ZIP code determines your opportunity.”